Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or any of the characters in the series. I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any of the characters in the series.
Author's Notes: Written for the livejournal 2015 August Fic-a-Day Challenge.
Richard Castle, Watcher
London, June 1989
Gazing at the drizzling rain in London, Richard Alexander Rodgers reconsidered his choice to continue his studies in England. He should have headed to Hawaii instead of to the Old Country. Or stayed in New York. At least they had real seasons there.
Though if he were honest with himself, then he'd have to admit that the source of his depression wasn't the English weather, but Kyra Blaine's refusal to speak with him. When his girlfriend of three years had told him she was going to England because "she needed some space", he had thought it was because of her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Blaine had opposed her relationship with him since the beginning. She had always stood by him, though. So after that unfortunate over-reaction of the dean of his last college in the USA to a harmless drunken prank of his, moving to England for both his studies and his girlfriend had seemed a perfect move.
Richard had planned it all out, at least in his mind. He'd surprise her at her flat with a bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers in hand and his best suave smile on his face, showing her that not even the Atlantic Ocean, much less her parents could keep them apart! It would be the kind of romantic gesture she loved, and they'd celebrate all night.
He had shown up at her flat as planned, only to find out that she needed some space from him. Which she had told him in no uncertain terms. One word followed the other, tempers rose, and by the time he left her apartment, they definitely were no longer a couple. Richard had handed over the flowers to the cab driver that had taken him home - the man's wife would appreciate them better than his ex-girlfriend - and had drunk the bottle by himself. Which explained his current slight headache.
Though another pint of ale in this pub he was sitting in would deal with that headache. It wouldn't do anything for his heartache though. And he couldn't head home. He'd not give his mother, who had claimed he'd not last half a year abroad, the satisfaction of being right. That, and the tuition was paid already. The Rodgers couldn't afford to write off that kind of money, or the costs for moving here, the deposit for his flat… he was stuck in England for the foreseeable future, so he might as well stick it out. Show Kyra that he hadn't come for her, and his mother that he could cut it in the land of Shakespeare.
He ordered another ale. At least England had a decent drinking age, even if the weather left a lot to be desired.
After three ales he was feeling… not better, but less depressed. Not angry, but … defiant. Yes, defiant. He was Richard Rodgers. Up and coming author, as soon as he finished his first book and found a publisher. He was a handsome and charming American student in England. He didn't need Kyra. There were other girls. Prettier girls. Girls who'd tell him if they wanted to break up, instead of moving away. Girls who'd tell him before he followed them to Europe!
He tore his gaze away from the window - night had fallen, not that the view had been great before - and started to look for a girl to forget Kyra with. Sadly, the selection in this particular pub seemed to be lacking. The waitress was cute, but fawning over another guest. Judging by the liberties that man was taking, they were a couple. Or close enough that the burly man would take offense to anyone else hitting on the girl.
But there was a pretty girl sitting at a table, alone. She had red hair, a pale complexion with a few freckles, and probably green eyes behind her glasses. She was dressed rather conservatively - was that tweed? - too. As he studied her, she sent another patron who had hit on her away with a glare so scathing, Richard winced in sympathy. She might be a school teacher, she had that vibe.
In short, she was a challenge. Just the thing he needed - if he struck out it wouldn't hurt since it was to be expected, but if he won her over… that would earn him the admiration of the entire pub. Take that, Kyra!
Just as Richard was about to get up and take his shot at the redhead, another girl walked in and he forgot all about the girl with glasses. The new girl was a dream come true. Milky-white skin, platin blonde hair, a figure fit for a lingerie model, curves in all the right places covered - no, emphasized - by a black leather cat suit straight out of "The Avengers". She walked in with the grace of a panther despite wearing high-heeled boots a stripper would not turn away.
Richard had left his table and was leaning at the bar next to her as quickly as he could without running. "Hi! I am Richard. I recently moved to London to finish my studies here." He flashed his best smile at her.
The girl raised an eyebrow, but she was smiling when she looked him over. Judging by her expression, she liked what she was seeing.
"Lynn." The girl nodded at him. "Your accent… are you American?"
"Yes. From New York, actually."
"It's cute. I love Americans." She licked her blood-red lips, and Richard knew, that this would be a night he'd never forget. Unlike Kyra.
"Are you sure this is a shortcut, Lynn?" Richard had to step around a pile of… he didn't want to know what it was, the smell alone was sobering.
"It's right around the corner." Lynn turned her head and smiled at him, once again licking her lips, and he forgot the smell.
'Around the corner' turned out to be a dead end. A brick wall, with a few trash cans in front. No door in sight. Women had no sense of direction. Richard smiled indulgently as he addressed Lynn. "I think you got us lost. No harm done though, we'll just have to backtr… Ack!"
She grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. "Oof! Ouch! I am impatient too, but…" She was surprisingly strong for a girl. Then her face changed to something else, and he forgot what he had wanted to say when she bit him in the throat!
He tried to scream, but one of her hands was covering his mouth, preventing him from making a sound, and the other kept him pressed against the wall. He tried to push her away, but it was like trying to push a truck; she didn't budge an inch. Richard started to hit her, but she didn't even react to his blows. She was just making those horrible, slurping sounds as she sucked at his throat. He could feel himself growing weaker. Colder.
Then suddenly she was gone and he was covered in ash. Panting and pressing his hand on his bleeding throat - was he going to die? Would he be found dead in a dark and dirty alley, an end straight out of a crime novel? - he saw someone else standing there. The pretty girl from the pub. She was holding a knife, no… a stake?
And suddenly, it clicked. "I've been bitten by a vampire!"
The girl muttered: "Now he realizes it." Scowling, she pulled his hand away from his throat.
"Ouch! Hey, are you Van Helsing? His Great-great-great-granddaughter?" He was babbling, but he was still bleeding, and he had been bitten by a vampire! A real vampire, who had been staked and turned to ash in front of him!
"Yes, Ma'am!" She had a commanding voice. The kind of authority he would like to worship. And she had saved his life. Provided he didn't bleed to death now. She pulled out a small pack from her coat - a bandage - and applied it to his wound. He'd not die. Probably not.
"What's your name? I am Richard. You saved my life. From a vampire." He was still babbling, but it was better than crying. And he was shaking now. He had almost been killed!
"You are lucky I came by. That crazy skank who bit you ran away when I arrived. She must have been on drugs." She was staring at him. Glaring. Daring him to disagree with her.
He could never resist that. "No, she did not! You staked her and she turned to ash!" He knew what he had seen. And felt. He started to shake his head, but the pain in his throat that caused made him stop.
The girl sighed. "If you tell that to anyone you'll end up in an institution. You don't want that." With that she turned and started to walk away.
"Wait! Who are you?" He started after her, but stumbled, the abrupt movement of his head causing him more pain. "Ouch!"
She glared at him over her shoulder. "Get to a hospital before you tear the bandage off and bleed to death, Mister! And stop following leather-clad skanks into dark alleys!"
With those parting words, she briskly walked away. In his condition, he couldn't keep up, and by the time he had reached the street she was gone. She had saved his life, and he didn't even know her name.
He'd find her, though. After a visit to the hospital.
London, August 1989
She was not wearing tweed the day he finally found her sitting at a table in one of the libraries in the University of London. The blouse and skirt she was wearing were still far more conservative than the attire of the other female students. Richard didn't mind that, much, right then - he'd rather not be distracted by a sexier outfit.
"Good afternoon, Miss Van Helsing!" He sat down across from her with a smile.
She didn't jerk, or twitch. He hadn't expected a vampire hunter to, anyway. But he was satisfied to see her eyes widening for just a second, before she glared at him. "I am afraid you must have confused me with someone else, Mister."
He shook his head. "I'd never forget the woman who saved my life, Miss Wilkinson. Or mistake her for someone else." That made her twitch, and he couldn't help but smirk in response.
She didn't answer, but made a point of focusing on the book she was reading. His smirk grew. "Ignoring me is not going to work. You can ask just about all of my friends and they'll tell you that I am a pretty un-ignorable kind of man."
His reward was an annoyed look, but she put the book down again. "What do you want?"
"Straight and to the point. I like that in a woman." He smiled at the girl and didn't falter when she glared at him. "In short, I want in."
"No." She obviously didn't have to ask what he meant.
"You think I do not want in? I think I'd know better than you what I want." He grinned at her. Women loved a witty man who could make them laugh. He loved to banter.
"I think you do have no idea what you are asking for."
"I think I do. Hunting vampires. Risking my life so others can live in safety and ignorance." He gave her his best honest boy scout smile. In truth, the revelation that vampires were real had been almost as much of a shock to him as almost dying to one. And if vampires existed, what about werewolves? Ghosts? Demons? He couldn't live in ignorance, he had to know! And he had to know how to kill them.
"You know nothing about them. Nothing about hunting. You wouldn't even serve as bait, not with the scar warning them off." She scoffed at him. Well, he never had been a boy scout.
His hand rubbed over the scar on his neck. It should fade a bit on its own, the doctor had said. And there was always plastic surgery. Richard hadn't decided yet if he wanted it to be less obvious - he kind of liked the idea of telling girls that a vampire had bit him, and then laugh about it, turning it into a joke. Deceiving the truth by stating it appealed to his writer self. "That's where you are wrong. Aren't you wondering how I found you?"
"Dumb luck? Emphasis on 'dumb'." She not-quite sneered at him.
"If that was the case, that would be a reason to let me join you. As the saying goes: 'Never trade luck for skill'. Skill can be trained, experience comes with age." He smiled at her, and barely resisted the impulse to wink and claim that he had plenty of experience. "But I actually found you thanks to good old-fashioned detective work."
"You do not look very old-fashioned to me." No matter her words, he had her attention now. Exposition time!
"The pub's staff and guests remembered you, you know? A few days before we met you had started to come by every evening. And since the night you saved me, you have not returned at all. They also told me that 'Lynn had a taste' for foreigners and tourists, apparently going home each evening with another man. Quite an unfortunate choice of words, in hindsight." He looked at her, but she didn't smile at his joke. "So, based on the assumption that the vampire had used the pub as a hunting ground, I deduced that you haven't been there by coincidence. Which meant you must have heard about missing people. There wasn't that much in the newspapers, so you had a connection to the cops."
"You're wrong." She cut in, a bit too quickly.
"I went to the police myself and passed myself off as a private eye, looking for a missing American. Most there tried to reassure me that falling off the grid wasn't unusual for a young man away from his home country for the first time. One man though was trying to get me to drop the case. The coroner, as it happens." He smiled at her, and noted a slight tensing of her jaw muscles. "That got me thinking. You're not alone. You're part of something bigger. A group that's been hunting for a while, and has people in the right places to find their prey."
"I really do not understand why you think I am connected to such a 'conspiracy', as you describe it." She seemed cool, collected, but he thought he saw her hands twitch a bit.
"Couldn't you have said: 'You've got no proof'? I always wanted to hear someone say that." Richard briefly pouted. So few people had a flair for the classics. "Anyway, I worked out that in order to place people in the right spots, they had to have the right skills, which meant university for a bright young woman like yourself. Medicine, or something related to vampires." He pointed at the "Anatomy" signs of the library section they were in.
"You decided to personally search every University in Greater London?" She sounded incredulous.
"In a manner of speaking." He grinned at her and showed her the portrait he had had commissioned. The artist had been ready to strangle him by the time it had been finished, but it had turned out well enough to be recognizable. "Students are remarkably cooperative if you tell them a romantic story of a lost portrait you want to return to the pretty owner you don't know, but have fallen in love with."
Mary Wilkinson closed her eyes.
Before she could say anything, Richard continued. "Another thing occurred to me, you know. Movies aside, I didn't think an organisation hunting vampires would send a young woman out by herself after such a monster. You were not supposed to be there, weren't you?"
That made her jerk and stare at him.
He leaned forward. "This can be our little secret, if you take me to your boss as a promising recruit. As you can see, I am rather good at finding out secrets."
Mary sighed. "I'll take you to my 'boss', as you put it. If he decides to have you killed instead of recruited, it's your own fault." She grinned evilly at him.
Richard laughed at her joke. Vampire hunters wouldn't kill people wanting to help, would they?
Three days later, Richard wasn't so sure anymore that Mary - she had allowed him to call her Mary, or rather, had stopped telling him to call her Miss Wilkinson, after a few hours - had been joking. Her 'boss', Mister Travers, had been quite impressive. Richard considered himself a good judge of character, and Travers had struck him as the type of man who would have people killed if he deemed it necessary. Not the kind of man one wanted to cross.
Naturally, Richard had been his usual charming self. He still got recruited as a 'Watcher', as the vampire hunters called themselves. He'd have to change his studies to Ancient Languages, though. A mastery of the English language was, apparently, not as important as the ability to read prophecies in ancient tomes.
On the other hand, his mentor, the Watcher showing him the ropes, so to speak, was Mary Wilkinson. The two of them were walking towards the next tube station, and she was still scowling as if someone had killed her dog. Or cat. She looked more like a cat person to him.
"You know, in some cultures, saving someone's life means you are now responsible for him." He smiled at her, but didn't try to put his arm around her shoulders in a comforting gesture. He could learn, no matter what his mother said. And Mary could pinch,
"If I had known that, I'd have arrived too late to save you!" the girl all but growled at him.
"You wound me!"
"Not until fencing practise."
The way the girl was now suddenly grinning at him made Richard question the decision to hunt vampires.
London, August 1989
"You know, I expected something more than simply swearing an oath in Travers's office." Richard Rodgers smiled at Mary Wilkinson while the two were walking towards the Watcher's library. "An initiation ceremony, like the Stonemasons have. Or a vampire chained up, ready to be staked, to prove one's dedication. Maybe a secret tattoo. For an organisation as old as yours, I mean ours, this is quite… " He didn't want to say 'boring', but it seemed lacking somehow.
"Capturing a vampire for every recruit? We'd lose more Watchers than we gained." She sorted at him, but without any humor in her voice. "But maybe it's you who are not taking this seriously enough. You swore an oath."
"I know. And I will keep it. It's just…"
"It's just that reality doesn't conform to your expectations. A quite normal situation for those raised on cheap television shows." She sniffed slightly, wrinkling her nose.
He glared at her. It wasn't as if British TV was any better … well, it was, actually. There was a reason the BBC was a legend in the business, the standard other broadcasting companies strove to reach. He'd do better avoiding that topic. "I'll have you know that I grew up with the classics of British theatre!" His mother had used him to learn her lines, after all.
"Really? You're a better actor than I thought then. I couldn't tell you from the stereotype American at all." If she stared at him with more disapproval, she'd openly sneer.
"Why, thank you! Coming from an expert on Americans, that's a compliment indeed! You're not doing too bad on imitating a stereotypical British snob either!"
The outraged look on her face made him chuckle loudly.
London, September 1989
"You've fenced before."
Richard grinned at Mary, who was rubbing her arm where he had struck her and was looking at him with obvious annoyance. "Well, I wasn't lying when I told you that all my knowledge of fencing came from movies and theatre. It's just that my mother is an actress, and her male actor friends pretty much came from an age when fencing was mandatory for the career. As a child, I wanted to be a knight or pirate or musketeer, and I persuaded them to show me some tricks."
"You were a stalker and blackmailer even at that young an age?" She raised her blade again. And probably her eyebrows behind her mask.
"I prefer to call it 'persuasive'." Richard reached out with his blade - a heavier saber than he was used to, but he had adapted quickly to it - but Mary parried his thrust, and her counter-attack hit his thigh, hard. He didn't yelp, and his wincing was hidden by his mask. "But I assure you that I was a rather mature child." He'd had to be, with his mother.
"And what happened to that child to regress so?" His mentor came at him with a series of furious attacks, driving him back step by step while he frantically tried to parry them. She wasn't underestimating him anymore.
There, an opening! He sought the point, stepping forward, only to find his thrust deflected, his exposed leg struck again, hard, and then swept out from under him. Unbalanced, he fell on his back and found the tip of her blade at his throat.
"We're not learning fencing for tournaments, or the stage. We're learning how to fight with a blade against monsters that are stronger and faster than any human." She withdrew the saber, then raised it in a slightly mocking salute.
"Indiana Jones had the right idea about that." He muttered, getting up.
"He wasn't facing a vampire." Mary commented. "Guns don't hurt them."
"Not at all?" That sounded a bit odd. "What about silver bullets?"
"Those are for werewolves. Bullets, silver or lead, do not do much to vampires. Stakes, blessed blades and crossbows are more effective. Even if that's hard to understand for a gun-crazy yankee."
He huffed indignantly. "The rednecks down south are the gun-crazy ones. We yankees are rather sensible." About guns, at least.
"I'd not call a man volunteering to fight vampires 'sensible'." She shook her head slightly as she positioned herself for an attack again.
"That's ok. You can call me 'handsome', 'brave', and 'dashing' instead." He bowed to her, in an imitation of a courtier's bow. In response, he received a blow to the head. "Ow! I am looking forward to using crossbows. At least you can't hurt me with them."
"Don't underestimate me, Mister Rodgers." She had to be smirking at him, he just knew it.
"Call me Richard, or Rick." He struck at her again, driving her back a few steps, before she turned the tables on him again. Painfully.
It'd be a long lesson, he could tell that already.
London, October 1989
If he had known how much he had to study, Richard Rodgers would never have become a Watcher. Probably not, in any case. They really could do with a primer, "Vampire hunting for dummies", or something like it. On the other hand, the material the Watcher library had was fascinating for anyone who was interested in books - like any good author would be. If only most of it wasn't written in the most boring, dry manner…
Sighing, he turned another page on the account of a fight against a Master Vampire in 1816 in Romania, then glanced over at Mary. She was watching him. It was to be expected - an organisation such as the Watcher's Council wouldn't trust a "bloody colonial" like him that quickly. If only she'd not treat the task as if it was a punishment detail. It wasn't as if it was a chore to spend time with a handsome, charming man such as himself. For a woman, at least.
He flashed a quick grin at her. "I now completely understand why you set out to hunt a vampire by yourself."
He could see she didn't want to ask, but she couldn't help it. "What do you mean?"
"It beats reading dozens of books written by people who couldn't write."
"I would think that having written actual, published books demonstrates that they could, in fact, write." She flashed her teeth at him in an overly friendly smile. He shouldn't have told her he was an aspiring author in an attempt to impress her.
"If by write you mean 'using grammar and spelling correctly', you'd be right. But most of those books are not written well. It's a chore to read them, and even more of a chore to find anything of relevance inside them." He almost stabbed his finger at a particularly offending paragraph, but he wouldn't risk a repeat of what had happened last time Mary had thought he didn't properly care for books. She didn't respect his safeword either.
"The great author has spoken his judgement. I suppose you will rewrite them then? The library could always do with more help."
"On second thought, they are not that bad." He weakly smiled at the girl, and focused on his reading again. Or tried to. He didn't last longer than a few minutes. "So, when will I meet the Slayer?" That had been a revelation: The Vampires' Scythe - or should that be 'Stake'? - was a teenage girl, chosen by destiny, and gifted with superhuman powers.
"If you're lucky, never."
"What? Why would I be lucky if I never met her? The one girl with the power to fight the forces of darkness. The chosen one. Immortal - in a twisted sense of the word. A tragic hero in the best sense of the word. The books an author could write about her…" he trailed off, with a faint smile on his face.
"I've told you, call me Richard. Or Rick." He beamed at her.
She glared at him. "There have been books written about her. The Watcher Journals. As you'd know, if you'd read them, a Slayer's life is short and violent. As the only girl in the world strong enough to deal with the worst threats to humanity, a Slayer and her Watcher are always where they are needed the most. And where they are the greatest risk. If you'd meet the Slayer, it would mean she needed help from other Watchers. Which generally implies a mission too dangerous for a Slayer by herself. I do not think I have to explain to you the odds of surviving such a mission."
"Oh." That made a frightening amount of sense. Although, now that he thought of it… "You know, I half-expected Mister Travers to send me on my first mission as fast as possible. He didn't seem too impressed by me."
"I am your mentor. You'll get on a mission when I deem you ready, not before." The way she frowned made him think...
"Oh I didn't know you cared!" Smiling widely at the scowling girl, he winked. She looked away. Adorable.
He continued studying in a much better mood. The Rodgers charm was having an effect!
London, December 1989
"For a 'fledgling', this vampire is quite the overachiever," Richard Rodgers managed to say while running for his life up a flight of stairs, his shoes making squelching noises on the steps wet with rain. Slick too, he had almost slipped twice already.
Next to him, Mary Wilkinson shot him a glare. "That's no fledgling, but an experienced vampire." She flinched a bit when they heard the sounds of superhuman strength tearing a sturdy door into pieces behind them. "That won't hold it for long."
"And we cannot outrun it," Richard added. Not without the sun up to offer them protection in the open. Or what passed for the sun in the fog and rain of London in winter. What had possessed him to think stalking a vampire in an abandoned factory at night was a good idea? Or to believe Mary, the girl who went to hunt a vampire by herself, at night, when she claimed that they could handle it? Granted, she had saved his life, and she was pretty, but she might just have killed them both.
"We need a plan." Mary was panting now, huffing between words.
"Apart from splitting up, and hoping it'll get confused, I don't see…" he trailed off when he spotted a particular piece of abandoned machinery. "I've got a plan!" Rushing forward, he started to work on the valves. Hopefully it had not… the liquid flowing out and spreading on the ground looked good enough to him.
"I am not sure I like your plan," Mary stated, standing next to him. When he fished out a zippo from his jacket, she added: "I didn't know you smoked."
"I don't. I got a lighter in case I meet a pretty woman who smokes."
"Why am I not surprised, Mister Rodgers?"
"Call me Rick. And I'd say it's because you're a know-it-all." He smiled at her, showing his teeth. Impending death made him a bit testy.
Her response was cut off by the vampire chasing them dropping down in front of them. When it stood up from its crouch, a wide grin exposing its fangs, Rick lit his zippo and dropped it in the spilled gasoline. The demon's yellow eyes widened in the second before the puddle it was standing turned into a bonfire.
"Yes! It worked!" Richard exclaimed, balling his fists as the vampire turned to ashes.
"You were lucky. What if the gas had evaporated since the factory had closed down?" Mary had, like himself, retreated to a safe distance.
"The important thing is, it didn't." He frowned at her. "And I told you, it's better to be lucky than skilled."
"Of course you'd think that, Mister Rodgers." She sniffed.
"I told you, call me…." he trailed off when he noticed that the fire was not dying out, but spreading.
"Did you close the valve down?" Mary asked, but his face must have given her his answer already, since she was slightly ahead of him when the two started running for their lives for the second time that night.
They made it out just before the factory went up behind them.
"I do not think that this will make for a good report for the Council." Richard stated. So much for the plan of impressing the old men with their initiative.
"No, it wouldn't." Mary shook her head.
"We probably shouldn't be here when the fire brigade and the police arrive." Richard looked around for any witnesses.
"No, we shouldn't," Mary agreed with him again.
As they started to run away for the third time that night, Richard vowed to take up jogging. It seemed far more useful for a vampire hunter than anything else. At least if judging by his experiences so far.
"Why are you so fixated on hunting vampires?" Richard asked as they were walking normally a good 15 minutes later. Less tiring, and less suspicious. He could still hear the sirens of the emergency services reacting to the fire behind them. And to their right side.
"They are a danger to humanity. A mass-murdering disease who needs to be contained at any cost." Mary stated without looking at him. She might have been searching a cab, or a working phone booth to call one.
"That's the party line. But the other Watchers are not as reckless as you. We almost died twice today because of your wish to kill a 'fledgling'. So, I don't really believe it's just duty that makes you go out alone." He tried to look as earnest as possible at her.
This time she met his eyes. "No one asked you to come with me. You insisted."
"And it was a good thing I did, or you'd be dead." He flatly stated.
"You don't know that." She glared at him, but she sounded a bit too defensive.
"Bullshit. Do you even carry a lighter?"
"Of course." She showed him a cheap plastic model. "You're not the only one who can think of setting things afire."
"Well, you didn't. Not today at least."
"I would have."
"Of course you'd have." His sarcasm was so thick one could have cut it with a knife. She grit her teeth and whirled away from him. "For God's sake, woman! I saved your life tonight!" It was a cheap shot, but he had not much else to say.
"Then that makes us even!" she spat over her shoulder and started to walk away at a brisk pace.
"That's not what I meant!" He ran after her, then grabbed her arm. Or tried to - she twisted away, and he found himself flying through the air, then landing on the pavement, hard. Pain shot through his leg. "Ow!" He had forgotten that she was very well trained in Aikido and Judo. And that she was quite ready to use her skills.
For a moment, Mary stared at him, mouth slightly open as if she was surprised by her own action. Then she huffed, and turned away. Richard started to stand up, but as soon as he put weight on his left leg, his ankle seemed to explode with pain, and he collapsed with a scream. Mary stopped and looked at him, hesitating.
"I think I've broken my ankle." He touched it, and winced at the pain.
"Let me check." Before he could protest, she had crouched down and grabbed his foot, poking it and twisting it around, ignoring his howls of pain. "No, it's just sprained."
"Since when are you a doctor? You act more like a torturer!" He clenched his teeth together, gripping his leg in a futile effort to deal with his pain.
"In any case, you cannot walk. There's a phone booth ahead, I'll call a cab." With that she left him on the cold, damp street. Not for the first time, Richard asked himself what he was doing here. Looking at her walk away, in thight pants, gave him one answer, at least.
Fortunately, Mary didn't take long. A few minutes later she was back with him. "We'll have to wait a bit."
He nodded at her, and scooted back until he could lean against the nearest wall. Mary remained standing for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, then sat down next to him. They remained like that for a bit. Richard couldn't tell how long, the pain in his ankle was too distracting.
Suddenly, the girl spoke up again. "My brother was killed by vampires. He was a Watcher too. Since then, my parents have done what they could to keep me safe, or as safe as a Watcher can get. Research duty, secretary jobs, that kind of work. They would lock me up in a cell if they could get away with it."
"And you hate it." He stated. It was obvious.
"I'd go mad in such a life. To see the others go out, fighting, risking their lives, losing their lives, while I sit back and stay safe…" She snorted. "I'd feel like a coward, like I was letting my brother down."
"So that's why you moonlight as Miss van Helsing." He didn't mention that he thought she was already at least a bit crazy. "There's something to be said for growing old though."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Coming from a man who all but blackmailed me into helping him to risk his life?"
"Touché," he acknowledged. "But I am not completely reckless. I plan to have a plan in advance next time." Frowning, he added: "That sounded much better in my head."
Mary laughed at it, at least. Both were slightly dirty from their frantic flight through one of the ruins of Britain's former industry, and he couldn't tell what were smudges and what were freckles on her face. Suddenly, he had a thought. "I just realized that Travers must really hate me!"
Blinking, she frowned. "Why do you think that?"
"He assigned me to a mentor with suicidal tendencies!" It all made sense now!
She hit his biceps for that remark, but half-heartedly. His flippant remark probably struck a bit too close to home, he realized.
He didn't apologize though, but continued. "Violent too."
Sighing, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall, heedless of the dirt it left in her hair. "Do you ever shut up?"
"I've got a reputation to maintain. But I'll make you a deal. I'll tone it down if you'll tone down your efforts to get us both killed." He grinned at her.
"You won't try to stop me from going hunting?" She didn't sound as defiant as he expected. Almost vulnerable.
"Do you think you're the only who'd get mad stuck in a library?" He raised his eyebrows at her and grinned.
The arrival of a cab down the street prevented her from answering. She stood up and waved, then started to shout when the cab driver seemed to have missed her. Richard wasn't surprised the cab stopped, then turned towards them - Mary was hard to ignore.
Before the cab reached them, she bent down and held her hand out to him. He took it, then used the opportunity to slip his arm around her shoulders - just to be able to stand up, of course. She briefly rolled her eyes at him, but didn't slip away when the cab driver came to help him too.
Once inside the cab, he turned his head to look at her. "So, deal?"
She held his gaze for a moment, then nodded, with the hint of a smile. "Deal."
"My dear, I think this is the start of a wonderful relationship! I mean partnership! Partnership!" He held up his hands as Mary started to frown.
"I know exactly what you meant."
"Perfect! I love experienced women!" He grinned, until her elbow met his ribs. "Ow! Apple, Apple!"
London, January 1990
Richard Rodgers was a happy man. His career as an author was not making much progress, yet, and he was still a junior Watcher, or would be, if that was not a far too modern term for the Council. But as far as his love life was concerned, he couldn't complain. His accidental arson last month had broken the ice, so to speak. Had melted the heart of the Ice Princess. Well, it had started to melt Mary's heart.
But the work he had been assigned… the longer he had to sift through dusty journals written in ancient English, the less crazy Mary's decision to hunt on her own was looking. The author he knew was in him was all but screaming at the way those old Watchers had managed to turn exciting, desperate battles against demons into entries so dry, they'd bore an accountant to death. All that inspiration, going to waste! If only they had had a little bit of flair, of writing talent. If only… he blinked. He had more than a bit of talent, if he did say so himself. As an author too. It would even be legal - copyright hadn't even been invented when most of those stories had been penned. And hadn't Shakespeare himself taken his inspiration from older stories? What was good enough for the most famous author of the world would certainly be good enough for Richard Rodgers. Oh, yes, he'd write stories to do justice to those tales he could feel more than see behind those dry entries!
"What have you done now?" Mary's question, laced with suspicion, interrupted his thoughts. Apparently the young British Watcher hadn't been that engrossed in her own book.
"Nothing!" He quickly answered. And almost as quickly he realized that he had made a mistake.
Her green eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "You had that look you have when you're about to do something stupid."
"You've been studying my looks? Why, my dear, I am flattered!" He flashed her a smile and winked.
She didn't get flustered though. "Don't try to change the subject. What were you thinking of?"
"A romantic evening involving you, me, and a good bottle of French wine?" He smiled at her hopefully.
"I do not believe you." Mary had stood up and was walking around the table separating them.
"A hot tub?" He scooted a bit back, just in case.
Her eye twitched slightly, and he added quickly "With bathing suits, of course. Or bikinis. Or parts of them."
She put a hand on the backrest of his chair and bent down until their noses were almost touching each other. "The last time you were that evasive, we almost burned to death in a crypt."
"I admit that the water balloons filled with gasoline need a bit more work, but the principle is sound. Even the official Watcher Manual lists "fire" as one of the most effective ways to deal with demons." He just had to lean a bit forward to kiss her. She'd probably kill him, but it would be worth it.
"We do not have an 'official Watcher Manual'." Mary was speaking slowly now, a sign that she was losing her patience. Not that she had much of that to begin with.
"Well we should have one! I keep telling you, those journals are awfully written. If those books were weapons, they'd be blunt and rusty and easily broken!"
"Richard…" her lips parted, showing her teeth. Damn, she was hot like this!
"I was thinking I should rewrite some of those books. Sort of." He didn't know why he blurted that out. She wouldn't kill him. Not even hurt him, really.
She blinked in surprise, and her mouth opened. For a moment, she looked very vulnerable, and very cute. "What?"
"I was thinking that those histories deserve better than be told in an accountant's prose. I intend to do better." He kept eye contact. Getting caught trying to sneak a peek down her blouse would not end well.
"That's…" She still looked slightly confused.
"Brilliant? Innovative? Revolutionary?" He flashed her his best seductive smile. Women loved confident men.
"I don't know what it is, but it's none of that! Why do you think the Council would even want such rewrites? We're not a public library!"
"Well, I wouldn't do this for the Council…" His smile wavered a bit when she glared at him.
"What? You… you want to use your sacred history to write stories?" Mary took a deep breath.
Richard hastened to interrupt her before she could really get going. "Think of the potential! The good it could do, to show - although in a form that wouldn't expose the Council's work, of course - the truth about vampires. None of that romantic drivel so common in movies and novels lately. Stories that show the horror of those creatures, and at the same time, expose their weaknesses. If only one life would be saved by reading such a story, wouldn't the time be well-spent?"
He could see she was considering it. Her outrage dwindling, faltering. "Tell you what - I'll write it, and you'll be the first to read it. You can decide then if it's stupid or not."
"Alright. At least if you're writing a novel you won't do anything more dangerous."
It wasn't the most rousing endorsement, but he'd take what he could get from her.
And she was calling him Richard now.
London, March 1990
Two months, three vampires and one near-death experience (which was all Mary's fault, honest) later, Richard Rodgers was done with his first novel. He wasn't counting his other attempts. Those had lacked real inspiration. And his first and most important reader was currently perusing his opus. She wasn't looking disgusted, but she wasn't looking enraptured either. maybe it was just the angle? He leaned to the side until he was almost falling from his chair. No, still no rapture nor disgust.
"If you try to look up my skirt I'll kick you. In the face." She didn't look up from the manuscript.
A second later Richard was sitting up straight and proper. "I wasn't trying to look up your skirt." Not that it would have worked, anyway - it was a proper skirt, not a miniskirt. Proper for the season, and proper for a Watcher.
"Mh." She still wasn't looking at him. Was that a good sign? For him, or his book?
He started to tap his fingers, then stopped. Patience. Even his mother had said he needed more patience. He was patient. Like a rock. Or something. A cat. Cats were patient. They could lie in wait for a mouse to show up for hours, couldn't they? On the other hand, they were easily distracted by anything moving and shiny. Jesus, he was a cat person! He always thought of himself as a dog - loyal, brave, dependable. Sort of. Slightly goofy, maybe. Women liked that.
"You do realize that I will take at least a few hours to finish this, do you?" Mary's amused voice interrupted his attempt at introspection. "Are you planning to watch me read for hours?"
"I could watch you for hours every day." He blinked. That had just slipped out. For the first time in this conversation, Mary looked at him. "I'll go over the catalogue of the 14th century journals again." As he turned to leave their table, he saw she was smiling.
He still didn't know what she thought of his book, but he didn't mind waiting a bit longer to find out.
"So, what do you think?" Richard asked as soon as Mary entered the part of the Council library they had taken over. He wasn't impatient. Mary had had a whole day, and evening, to read his book. More than enough time to finish it.
"About what?" Mary asked while she started to lay out her notes on the table.
"You know. The book." He was tapping his foot on the floor now.
"Which book?" Mary looked at him, as if she was confused.
"You know which one I mean! The book." He was clenching his fingers. The woman was teasing him, he knew it. And she was enjoying it.
"Ah, that one." She looked at the ceiling, as if collecting her thoughts. "Hm."
She smiled. "I hate to admit it, but you do have some talent as a writer. Of course, the events you used as inspiration were almost completely mangled."
He beamed at her. "Great! That means we don't run the danger of anyone from the old guard recognizing the story." And any competent editor would mangle the story further anyway. He knew that much about the business, his mother counted a number of authors among her friends.
"You intend to use a nom de plume then?" Mary asked while handing the manuscript back to him. Of course she'd know the term.
"Yes. Richard Edgar Castle." No one would connect that to him.
Mary nodded and sat down. She was wearing a shorter skirt today. It ended just above the knee. If one squinted a bit.
"Aren't you going to ask about the significance of the name?".
"I am certain you'll tell me all about it soon enough without encouragement."
He pouted. Oh, she knew him well. Just not in the way he wanted her to know him most. "So, you did like it."
"Yes." She nodded.
Yes! He balled his hands into fists.
"Of course, finding an editor will be difficult. Fantasy novels are not exactly bestsellers."
He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "I'll set a new trend."
"Buy a lot of chocolate. I hear it helps dealing with rejection."
Neither glaring nor pouting seemed to affect her in any way.
London, July 1990
"Another rejection?" Mary asked, looking up from the book on Polgara Demons' life cycles. Richard Rodgers knew she had been taking her work home for quite some time. That was nothing unusual if the work consisted in researching information found in books. But she had started to take her work to his home too. That was a good sign. It showed she had grown comfortable around him. Enough to ignore him for the evening in favor of working. In his home. They might skip the wedding part of their relationship and go straight to estranged couple. Maybe it wasn't that good a sign as he had thought.
He didn't answer her, just crumpled up the letter and threw it in the wastepaper bin. Well, towards it - it fell short a bit, denying him even that success. Richard had kept his first rejection letter, planning to keep it as a motivation. And a future conversation starter for when he was rich and famous. But that letter had just been the first of a series, a wave of such rejections. There was only one explanation for that: Those publishing houses needed employes with a better eye for literary quality!
"How many rejections does that make?" Mary asked, in that tone that made it impossible to tell if she was being sympathetic, or teasing, or both.
"I don't keep count." It was the twenty-first.
"Mh." She went back to reading her book.
"The next one will accept my manuscript and prove everyone else wrong." He raised his chin slightly. Not that she'd pay attention. Impossible woman.
"Of course." She was humoring him in order to mock him. If someone else, say one of the fossils on the Council, would have been the target, he'd have loved it.
"What did you find out about the disappearances in Birmingham?" He wasn't abandoning the discussion. He was just delaying it a bit. Say, until he got an offer from a publisher.
"It's not vampires. One victim disappeared at noon, and from a spot unreachable without being exposed to sunlight." Mary answered.
"Or what you English try to pass off as sunlight." Richard grumbled.
"At least our winters do not include blizzards, and we don't die in the streets from heat stroke in summer," Mary shot back.
"I'll have you know that you can live a year in New York without suffering un-airconditioned air." He sniffed indignantly.
"So you say. Am I supposed to take this on faith value, like your claims about the viability of paintball guns for vampire hunting?" Mary smirked at him.
"It would work, if we could get a decent reloading setup." He had it all worked out. Theoretically.
"Or a priest willing to bless paint?" She chuckled, just a bit. It had been a decent idea. Once he was rich from his books, he'd hire someone to put it all together. No, to teach him how to do it without wrecking the thing.
"One day you'll see my genius at work." He sighed.
"And one day you'll show me the paradise you call home?" Her hints had become a bit stronger lately. He'd love to show her New York, if not for a little complication.
"Yes, I'll show you New York, the best, brightest city of the world, and all it's wonders. But we couldn't leave while people disappear in Birmingham, could we?"
The doorbell interrupted her answer. Who would arrive at such a late hour? For a moment he imagined one publisher being so excited after reading his story that they sent a courier with a contract offer to make sure no one else beat them to the punch. Then he discarded that fantasy like all the others he'd have over the years about the start of his career as a bestselling author. Fantasy author now.
"Are we expecting someone?" Mary stashed the book in her bag and moved toward the chest where Richards crossbow was stashed.
"No, we aren't." He caught the stake she threw to him then walked to the door, waiting until she had the crossbow ready. The doorbell kept ringing. Whoever was waiting was impatient. If it was a mormon... did they get mormons in England? Richard peered through the spyhole and paled. The stake almost slipped from his grasp. When he turned to Mary she tensed up as soon as she saw his desperate face.
"It's my mother!"
"Really, Richard, what did you expect? You never write, you rarely call, you don't tell me anything about this new job of yours… any mother would come to check up on her only child in this situation!" Martha Rodgers declared with all the drama an actress with decades of experience was capable of while she deftly avoided spilling any of the wine in her glass. Wine he had bought for himself and Mary. But telling his mother to get herself a drink from the kitchen had been the only way to get her out of the living room so Mary could move the crossbow from where she had dropped it behind the couch to the chest.
"Most would stick to using the phone themselves instead of making the trip across the Atlantic for a surprise visit!" Richard was doing his best to match his mother glass for glass. That bottle had been rather expensive, and he wanted his share.
"Pish posh!" His mother finished her glass, then grabbed the bottle for a refill. "You'd never have told me about your new girlfriend over the phone. That would have meant admitting that I was right about Kyra." She turned to Mary, who was watching her with a mixture of amusement - at Richard's expense! - and the kind of slight shock Martha often caused to people who met her for the first time. "I told him she was breaking up with him, but was too cowardly to say so. 'Going to London to get some space' - what woman would say that and mean it?" Martha didn't give Mary any chance to answer before she continued. "He didn't believe me when I told him she would not stick with him against the wishes of her parents. A mother knows."
"You told me that a week after you had met her. That was over three years ago!" He would have prefered to tell Mary himself of one - one! - of the reasons he had moved to London. At a moment of his own choice too. Say, a few months or years after their wedding. But Hurricane Martha had never cared much about his wishes, and wouldn't start caring now.
"And I was right." Martha smiled at him with that impossibly smug expression he was so familiar with, then looked at Mary. "He never listened to me as a child, and never grew out of that phase."
"I'd say he still has yet to grow up." Mary was smiling while his mother agreed with her! The traitor! Richard glared at both of them, but that just made them chuckle and giggle together. He decided to save the shreds of his dignity and not descend to their level, and instead filled his own glass again.
"So, tell me about yourself, Mary. How did you two meet?" Martha asked with a predatory air her innocent tone couldn't really hide.
Both of them froze for a second. "We met in a bar," Mary answered, glancing at him.
"Yes. She saved me from a very pushy woman." He smiled at her while her glance turned into a glare. Didn't she know that one had to stick as close to the truth as possible when lying?
"What possessed you to do such a thing, dear?" Martha Rodgers asked Mary, making a show out of staring at the woman's rather conservative clothes. "I cannot imagine you frequenting the kind of bars my son would visit in New York."
"To tell the truth, I had developed a strong dislike of the woman he was with when I met him. I would have interceded for just about every man caught in her clutches." Mary said conspiratorially.
Richard gaped at her behind his mother's back while Martha laughed.
His girlfriend smiled sweetly. "He later tracked me down at the university to thank me, and we ended up as co-workers by chance."
"That must have been a real shrew of a girl for him to thank anyone of driving her off. He wasn't drunk, was he?" His mother proceeded in her attempts to assassinate his character in front of his girlfriend.
"I'll have you know, I was not drunk at all, mother!" A beer or two didn't count.
"I'm sure you weren't, dear." Martha Rodgers dismissed him with a wave of her hand and that patronizing attitude he was so familiar with. He really hoped Mary wasn't taking notes.
"Speaking of work… what is it exactly that you do? My son was quite proud of having found, finally, gainful employment. Of course he had to leave the country to achieve that. But he was rather unwilling to provide details about his work during his very rare phone calls. I had feared the worst, to be honest, given his past exploits." The actress sighed theatrically.
"We're working at a private library, mother. A very private, very distinguished, very British library." Richard managed to get out between grinding his teeth.
"Indeed, Mrs Rodgers." Mary nodded.
"Miss Rodgers." Martha corrected her.
"The library belongs to a private society involved in archeology and history, with a long tradition of financing private expeditions. Their archives go back centuries, and require quite a lot of work to be maintained." Mary went on in that prim, proper English upper class accent of hers.
Martha looked duly impressed, and surprised. "I am glad to see my son is finally making something out of his life. Did you know he was planning to become an author for most of his teenage years? That was one of the reasons Kyra's parents were so opposed to their relationship, you know."
"Oh, I am very aware of his literary ambitions, Miss Rodgers," Mary smiled.
"Oh, dear! Did he force you to read his manuscripts? It was cute when he was twelve, and they weren't that long, but later…" His mother shuddered dramatically.
"When did you say your flight back was scheduled for again, mother?"
"Richard!" Both his mother and his girlfriend were looking at him reproachfully. Dear Lord, they were bonding. Hell, he was starting to curse like a native even in his own head!
He went to the kitchen to get the next bottle. He wouldn't survive the evening without more alcohol.
London, August 1990
He had gone through hell. His pride, his self-esteem, his sanity had barely survived. But he had persevered. And after four weeks, his mother was finally returning to New York. Richard Rodgers had personally driven her to Heathrow, just to make sure she didn't miss her plane and had to spend another night at his flat. He couldn't wait to see her gone. Really.
"I am telling you, Richard, only you could find a conservative English girl who shared your fantasies." Martha Rodgers was stating while her baggage - which had mysteriously multiplied during her stay in London - was checked in.
"The way you say it, mother, you make it sound as if it's something dirty." He didn't quite check if anyone was listening in, but he glared at an older gentleman who was eyeing them just in case.
"Don't worry about me judging you if you like to play 'Vampire Hunter' in the bedroom using authentic props. It's obviously the fault of my acting genes finally making an appearance." His mother sighed. "I should have made more of an effort to raise you properly."
"You didn't make much of an effort to raise me at all." Nannies and boarding schools didn't count, in his opinion. If he ever had children, he'd make sure they'd be raised better. And saw their grandmother maybe once a year. Under supervision. No telling what they could be picking up from the impossible woman otherwise.
"Oh Richard!" she actually patted his cheek! "But at least you've found a woman who believes you, and in you. That's something to be proud of."
"Thank you, mother," he said while smiling toothily at her.
"A mother should be always supportive of her children's endeavours. Even if they do not work out." Martha nodded sagely.
"I am sure my manuscript will be accepted by the next publisher." Someone had to recognize a future bestseller if they saw it. Otherwise, how could any publisher stay in business?
"Of course, dear. Never give up, I always say. I wouldn't have gotten the lead in "As you like it" if I had let rejections worry me.
"You didn't get the lead role in that play, mother." He sighed when he saw her smile. "Please, be careful back home, mother. Wear the cross I bought you, and don't invite anyone in."
"I will certainly not hide this marvelous gift you must have spent half your paycheck on!" Martha smiled, but Richard knew she was just humouring him. Then she grew serious as well. "Look, Richard. Mary is a very nice girl. Charming, cultured, tolerant of your foibles..."
He held up his hand to interrupt her. "Mother, we went over that already."
"I am just saying. If you plan to marry her, then one of you needs to be the responsible one for the marriage to work out. And you are not very responsible."
"Mother." He didn't ask how she would know that, not having been married herself. Or being responsible at all.
"Promise me, Richard, that you'll not do anything rash. Please." She smiled at him, and he sighed.
"Of course not mother. As long as you take precautions." He looked at her with as much seriousness as he could muster. The thought of her falling prey to a vampire or other demon, just because he had not managed to convince her...
"Against vampires." She stared at him.
"Yes." Was it so hard to believe?
"Alright, dear. If only so you will not blame me for whatever mess you make while being distracted with worry about me." She hugged him, and he could feel her trembling slightly. As much as he claimed she had never been around when he was growing up, they had never been separated for as long as they had been since he had moved to London.
"Mother." He nodded at her as she turned away. And closed his eyes in embarrassment when she started to flirt with the older gentleman who had been watching them. He doubted she'd ever change. And he didn't really want her to. Most of the time.
"Did everything go well at Heathrow?" Mary asked as soon as he stepped through the door. She hadn't been around as much as usual while his mother had been in town. Understandably, really. Martha Rodgers was best met in small doses.
"Unless she missed the plane because she was having an affair with a fellow traveler she picked up at the transit lounge, yes." He closed the door, locking it carefully, and plopped down on the couch.
Mary laughed, then stopped when she realized he hadn't been joking. "You know, when you told me you were the responsible one in your family, I didn't believe you."
"No one does. Story of my life." He sighed.
Mary went to the kitchen. "Did you convince her to take precautions?"
"She said she'd wear the cross and stop inviting people to her apartment. I believe she'll do the first, but not the second." He sighed. "We should have gone with my plan."
"And how would we have managed to overpower a vampire and transport it with us to your flat? Without anyone calling the bobbies?" he heard Mary ask.
"A coffin wouldn't have been that suspicious." Less than a body-bag, at least.
"Perhaps not in a frat house in New York. But we're in London." She returned with a beer for him, and a soda for herself. "And you never came up with a plan to actually take a vampire captive with just the two of us."
Taking the beer, he went through his mail. Bill, bill, ad, rejection letter from a publisher… he froze and stared. He was actually holding his breath. 'Dear Mr. Rodgers… glad to offer… some changes...' He had dreamed of this moment, of what to say, exactly, when it happened, but now that it had come true, he simply handed the letter over to Mary with a silly smile on his face.
Mary's shriek warned him a second before she jumped on his lap. He still spilled part of his beer. Neither he nor she cared. "You'll be published! Oh, Richard! I am so happy for you!"
"Was there ever any doubt? Don't answer that!" he quickly added, holding her. His proposal would have to be edited, of course. Partially rewritten, probably. It would be a lot of work. But his dream was coming true. Finally. He would have commented on the fact that this letter arrived just after his mother had left, and not a day before, as proof that the universe liked to play games with him, but Mary was already pulling at his shirt.
The next day he had a terrible time trying to explain to his nosy neighbour that he hadn't loudly celebrated his mother's departure.
New York, December 1990
"Oh, Richard. I am so proud of you!" His mother hugged him, slightly tipsy from the champagne. She was, he realized - she was telling everyone around them that her son was now a published author. Richard suspected that his mother hadn't really believed him until she had held the advance copy in her hand. The timing of the letter had just been a bit too suspicious for her. But she was wearing the cross he had given her.
Richard and Mary had flown over to New York for the launch of his book. It wasn't a big affair for the publisher - just another paperback novel on the market. But for him, for Mary and his mother, it was a big event. He was a published author, earning money with his writing. If he still was with Kyra, her parents would have to eat their words now! Maybe he should send them a copy of his book.
Mary's parents didn't know "Richard Castle" was their daughter's boyfriend, of course. They might be less understanding than their daughter of Richard using Watcher journals as inspiration. Though truth to be told, after the editor had gone over it, the story wasn't that recognizable anymore. Although the details about the vampires and demons - he had insisted nothing there would be changed, no matter how "original" it was - were spot on, which would make them suspect the author had personal experience with demons.
Which he had. In spades. Not that the Council was aware of that. As far as the other Watchers were concerned, Mary and himself were mere researchers, providing important information to the Watchers in the field. Their personal "hunting expeditions" were a secret. Although he wasn't sure how much of a secret they really were - no one of their co-workers had ever questioned their claims of having fallen down the stairs when they arrived with bruises their clothes couldn't cover up. People couldn't be that blind. Mary claimed they were not the only ones doing some private hunting. Richard didn't know the other Watchers well enough to judge that - he still was "the Yankee" to them, even if only Mary ever called him that to his face, and from her, it was a term of endearment.
"Mary! Did I ever tell you about Richard's first 'book'? He was twelve, and adorable!"
Richard knew the story by heart. So did Mary, but she was far too polite to mention it. While his mother talked to his girlfriend, Richard looked out of the window next to their table. New York at night, a wonderful and familiar sight. But it felt different now. He knew that somewhere out there, vampires and other demons would be hunting. Could he really be happy about his success while people were dying that night, murdered by creatures they didn't even suspect existed?
"And do you know what's the best thing about your book is, Richard?" His mother interrupted his thoughts before he could start to brood. He was about to answer with a witty remark when she continued. "Now you'll not be seen as crazy, but as eccentric when people discover you believe in vampires and keep props at your home!"
He glared at her, then realized that she was right, and beamed at her. "Mother, that's a great idea! We'll be able to keep all sorts of weapons at hand without anyone suspecting anything!" They might even be able to carry them around, claiming they were doing research.
Richard and Mary started discussing where best to display the stakes, crossbows and swords in their new flat while his mother, for once, looked flabbergasted. Richard enjoyed every second.
New York, March 1991
'The Vampire Hunter' was a surprise hit, according to the sales numbers he got from his Publisher. Royalties didn't surpass his paycheck from the Council yet, but it was getting close. And he was already working on his next book in the series. So to further boost the book's popularity and therefore sales, they had wanted 'Richard Castle' to make an appearance at a few conventions, such as the 33th Annual Convention of the New York Science Fiction Society - the Lunarians. Richard Rodgers hadn't thought twice about getting a paid trip back to New York for himself and Mary. Even if they wouldn't be able to avoid visiting his mother.
To meet fans of his work was a really great experience. Not that there were that many of them around, but those he met were enthusiastic. A number were odd - eccentric, he corrected himself, and that had to be expected from people who loved a rather bloody tale of vampire hunters - but most were nice people genuinely happy to meet him.
Needless to say his ego got a rather large boost out of it, even though no pretty girls wanted him to sign their chests. Which, given Mary was present, and could get a crossbow cocked and loaded in less than a minute, was probably a good thing. She wasn't wearing the reasonably close version of the leather outfit he had put his female lead in that he had found at a stall at the convention, alas. But if he had interpreted a few whispered remarks of her correctly, she'd be wearing it later tonight, in their bedroom. He was, of course, looking forward to it.
"Hello Mister Castle! Would you sign my copy of your book, please?"
Richard didn't quite stare, but he did blink at the pre-teen girl holding out a copy of 'Vampire Hunter' to him. She couldn't be older than 12, and she certainly wasn't among the target audience for his book. Hell, while it didn't contain actual adult material, the descriptions did get rather graphic. He managed to keep smiling, and gracefully accepted the book, but the girl's mother must have noticed his expressions.
"She's very advanced for her age. And she loves Fantasy novels, especially those with strong female characters." The woman smiled in a slightly embarrassed way. Richard suspected that the girl was rather stubborn to, enough to be allowed to attend the convention. Though a fan was a fan.
"You're a precocious child then. What's your name?" He smiled at her, and saw her blush while he wrote 'To my no. 1 fan...' on the first page of her copy.
"Kate. Kate Beckett. With two 't's at the end." She craned her neck to make sure that he wrote her name down correctly, prompting another embarrassed smile from her mother.
Richard was chuckling when he handed the book back to the beaming girl. Had his mother had the same expression, back at the science fair in 5th grade?
He shouldn't be doing this, but… he couldn't resist. "Say, Kate, have you ever seen a real crossbow? Like the one Alice used to kill the Master Vampire's first minion? My friend Mary over there can show it to you."
The girl was at Mary's side, pestering her with questions before her mother could react. He had a feeling she'd not rest until she could hold the crossbow too, and would be disappointed she couldn't fire it.
Hm. A range for a crossbow… maybe some demonstrations with swords and stakes… He and Mary had the training, and he knew how to put on a show. He had to speak with his publisher.
And maybe he'd get Mary to wear the leathers for the next con.
London, July 1993
"Have you seen the broadswords? And did you get the permits to bring them to the US? I've already packed the stakes and crossbows. If anyone asks, those are for camping and hunting. I'll not get into an argument with an overly religious customs officer about Fantasy novels spreading witchcraft again." Richard Rodgers, known to his many fans as Richard Castle, author of the very successful 'Vampire Hunter' series, yelled to his girlfriend Mary.
"I also packed your convention outfit as well already, I had some room left in my suitcase." She had 'forgotten' her outfit for the last con. This was the Gen Con, the biggest gathering for Fantasy fans in the world. Gina Cowell, the woman handling his series for his publisher, had insisted that they needed some 'eye-candy' to draw attention to their booth since many attendants there would be in costume. Mary didn't like Gina, and the feeling was mutual, but Richard's girlfriend did acknowledge that the woman knew her business. Richard still didn't know how his publisher had managed to persuade Mary to wear that outfit - his girlfriend had vetoed the booth babes Gina had wanted to hire, after all. Well, his was not to question why, his was just to stare and die.
"Did you return the Codex Polgari already to the library? I think Rupert asked for it, something with the incident in Wales." Richard didn't want to find out if the rumor that Rupert Giles, a polite, distinguished fellow watcher, would go berserk if he couldn't get a book he needed within three days, were true. He didn't think a man could get a nickname like "Ripper" for shredding books.
He suddenly realized that Mary hadn't answered any of his questions. She hadn't said anything, not even told him to shut up and stop bothering her while she packed. "Mary? Darling? Is something wrong?"
He found her in the bathroom, staring at a small slip of plastic. She turned her head and looked at him with a shocked expression. "I am pregnant."
He took a few seconds to understand what she had said. His girlfriend was pregnant. She was having a baby. He was going to be a father!
He moved to hug her, with a huge if also slightly shocked smile on his face, then froze, staring at her - still flat - stomach.
"I am pregnant, not brittle." She scowled, then smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, Richard. What will we do? When my parents hear of this…"
"We'll marry of course. As soon as possible." There was no way he'd follow in his unknown father's footsteps.
She looked at him, surprised again, but nodded. "Of course."
London, October 1993
The wedding preparations had gone through without a hitch, despite Richard's mother trying to help. The Wilkinsons were old money, and knew how to get things done quickly and smoothly, when the family honor was - sort of - at stake. Of course everyone suspected the reason why, after three years of living together in sin, as an old and almost deaf great-aunt had called it at a rehearsal dinner, Mary and 'that yankee' were suddenly tying the knot, but no one would say anything. At least not in their presence.
It turned out that Martha Rodgers knew a surprising number of British actors and actresses, and so the groom's side in the church wasn't just filled with 'more yankees', even though most of Richard's American friends were quite surprised to find out he had become a librarian. Oh, how he wished he could reveal his success as an author without running the risk of earning the ire of that evil old fossil, Travers!
At least the Wilkinsons had quietly spread the word that their new son-in-law was well-off to the point of being independently wealthy. Which sufficiently impressed their Watcher friends and acquaintances - being rich and risking one's life was quite more respectable than risking one's life for money. Though he had a feeling that he'd still be 'that yankee' for years to come.
He scoffed at the thought, drawing some glances from the guests, and a glare from his mother. Martha Rodgers had more than once mentioned that she had expected her son to wake up one day in Las Vegas with a hangover and a marriage certificate he didn't remember getting. To see him married at a British Upper Class wedding was a dream come true for her. The amount of rich elder gentlemen among the guests impressed by a middle-aged actress didn't hurt either, of course, no matter if they were terrible snobs or not. His mother simply had no luck with men, and no taste either. His own, unknown father being the best proof.
Richard didn't really care. He was a successful author, with a horde of adoring fans. He was marrying a beautiful, brave and smart woman, who would soon bear his first child. And he was doing his part to protect humanity from demons. He was quite proud that he hadn't sent an invitation to Kyra, to show her and her parents just what kind of man he had become.
When Mister Wilkinson led the bride through the church gates, down the aisle, when Richard saw just how beautiful she was, in her wedding dress, he knew he had achieved his wildest dreams.